Autumn sights in Zurich

After a few last attempts to hold onto summer (see: Saturday afternoons by the lake), the bright oranges, reds and yellows around Zurich started to tell the story of cooler nights, foggy mornings, and the crisp breeze causing people to get cozy and bring out the winter comforter. It is definitely autumn!

Late summer sun at the lake

With the fog lifting up by the afternoon, the bright blue sky has been an exquisite complement to the symbols of the season: late harvest plants, lingering flowers, plump pumpkins, and the changing of the leaves. I’ve been walking around the ‘m0untain’ near my apartment and marveling at the final stages of summer blending seamlessly into one of my favourite times of year. As a self-declared jacket addict, this is a great time of year since I’m assured of the need for a great long spy trench coat and a cozy wool scarf before venturing out.

pursuing sun

gardening yoga

And as the growing season wraps up, the plot farmers are hard at work preparing their garden for the winter crops and bringing in the last of the summer’s. This, of course, means pumpkins are ready! To fully embrace this I biked out of Zurich to a nearby you-pick farm called Jucker Farmart. Here they not only display the winning pumpkins in the annual ‘biggest’ competition, there are also pumpkin-made displays with a new theme every year. It just so happened that I decided to visit the farm when the theme was particularly original: Switzerland. Yep, we are talking about displays complete with a gigantic cow, Heidi, the Matterhorn, an alp horn and more made from various shapes, colours and sizes of pumpkin. You couldn’t help but smile at the fun displays, the history and symbols they chose, and the faces of the kids who were totally entranced by the pure quantity of pumpkins and all their alien forms.

700 kg winner and contenders

The three-canton vote to unite Switzerland... in pumpkin form
Pumpkin carver

And along with pumpkins, also comes apples. And in Switzerland they make a fresh pressed apple juice, mixed with pear as well, called Most (pronounced Moescht)

pouring fresh Most into bottles

And one final impression from another ‘mountain’ above Zurich (they are really more like hills but have the name of -berg, meaning mountain. Hmm… they don’t quite look like the mountains I know) looking out towards the Alps and the surrounding towns. The sun was setting and casting a glow that lit the oranges of the hill and the purple of the horizon.

All the boys in a year

Some feedback on the previous post- do I only have female friends?

Well no, not entirely. And some of the male ones are particularly hilarious and should be showcased more often.

Therefore, a selection of the top from the last year

Always laughing

Paco, from Mexico, always always always has a funny story to tell. He is up for everything and is the gentleman of the crowd- though it hasn’t worn off on the others yet. Dislikes: tortillas and hot food. Likes: cold weather. We are not actually sure of his Mexican authenticity.

Gypsy boy

Beni, a fellow engineer with an especially critical/ ambitious nature, but enjoys a good party. Here he is recovering (it is around 6 am) from a circus themed party hosted at his house. He was an elephant trainer and carried a huge stuffed elephant around all night. Beni survived but I’m not sure about the elephant.

Bird watcher

The inquisitive eye here belongs to Nico, an environmental scientist with a passion for birds and history- perfect for our mountain hikes, or when roaming through old European cities (like Vienna or Paris!)

The artist

The lead singer of ‘the artists as young men’, Benji is Swiss but with Indonesian roots. He is my one Swiss friend with whom I can use all the ‘Anchorman’ jokes and actually gets them! Also a wonderfully creative singer, again check out their myspace (I’m a shameless groupie)

Tall tree

And finally another band member, as well as boyfriend, and beginner bagpiper (though not about to be introduced into the band setting anytime soon), Tilmann from Germany. Survived my mom’s soups in Canada and even picked up some yoga, now is on a mission to teach me trees- this one is an oak!

A more balanced picture? I’d say so.

Still packing, still in flux. Soon to be more normal… hurrah

All in a year

Phew, it was tough coming back to this blog. It certainly has been in the back of mind for a few weeks now, and tickling my interest for a few days now, and suddenly in these hours after a very successful yoga class (7 people, new record) I feel it is time to dive back in.

The last months have been a whirlwind, as is the usual forecast for Zurich – partly inspiring, with a slight chance of spontaneity, but the evening looks clear for opportunity. I have been spending my time in about 4 locations (geez I should really get out more):

1. ETH (aka school) part-time with only a few classes, but enough to keep me busy and engaged in student life

2. Poyry (aka work)

3. ETH (oh yah, again) this time as a research assistant helping with this year’s case study (see the school page for last year’s details)

4. The ‘ new room’ which is the wonderful new shared space I am renting with a handful of other people. On a weekly basis it sees 2 yoga practices (by yours truly), 2 band practices (post rock chill: http://www.myspace.com/artistsasyoungmen), dozens of garden sessions as we try to tame some wild blackberries and ravaging invasive species and some pet chickens may be next on the list, and finally a wonderful veggie barbecue or two.

Between it all, I try to sleep.

Oh and look for a new apartment.

Which I just found!

So the scenery will be changing, thank goodness, but it is still right in between all my 4 hangouts, ideal. This is what I have been looking at through my window for the last year, with more or less clarity.

my clock tower

I am happy to move on from this, though I have conquered the task of sleeping through the quarterly bells.

But moving always brings back memories of the journey, which is deeply important to me. And nostalgia hit me this week as I began to pack up what has only been 2 year’s accumulation of Swiss-ness. But I thought to bring you along for the ride and share a few of the picture moments over the last year.

Engadine

To start, some typical Swiss landscapes and villages. This is the village of Scuol, in the beautiful Engadine valley in South East Switzerland. Famous for its fountains with naturally occurring minerals (I think they are high in iron), with an almost carbonated flavour! If anything, being in Switzerland makes you feel healthy- whether it be the fresh air or sparkling waters.

River crossing

Got good use of that backpack in the last year (Thanks, Lisa!). A few camping trips after Scotland, involving some painfully cold mountain water but all worth it for the best camp and cook site. I spent some great time in the mountains before heading to Burkina, which possibly made the transition even more extreme. More on that later…

The valleys are deep and long here, straighter than what I know from Canada and much more inhabited. You can never really get lost in the mountains here, which is certainly an advantage, but it also means that you have to make the extra effort (i.e. freezing foot spa therapy) to get away from it all.

Gourmet

Certainly can’t beat the flavour of warm food after a long hike, or that tingle on the skin as you crawl into a tent and you are finally out of the elements. The sensation is addictive as it is one of those rare moments when I feel totally free and capable of surviving on my own… at least for one night!

My maple heritage

An outstanding Maple, alone in a mountain meadow, standing strong as the moss creeps up. I found this tree on a hike that went awry when I lost my way and ended up going straight up to find the path again. As I dragged myself up the steep ascent, I came across some friendly cows, a few goats, a hidden waterfall, and finally the path again. This was a few days before I left for Ouagadougou, I like that this adventure was somewhat foretelling of what I would experience in Africa.

The sun beats on

Less than 3 months in Burkina Faso, but a world of experiences. I took this picture, above, on one of my trips into the country side where we were visiting the project villages. It was just after a brief but pounding rain storm in the afternoon, and as the sun set the air was crisp, a rare smell down there as everything is seeped in the tradition of heat. I distinctly remember sighing with this thought and thinking that this place has a soul that reaches so much further than I knew.

Snow search

Back from Burkina and into the winter… well almost. A lack of snow made for a lot of walking in the dry hills.

Maja

On that same ski trip we did eventually get some snow. My lovely friend Maja from Croatia with her youthful energy and openness. One of the many smiles that I know so well now.

Sun bathing

Another important character in my circle, Andrea from Canada. She is all-trusting and always in when I want to go on an adventure. She was brave enough this time to venture off the trail when we were going snow-shoeing. I’m no expert by far (memories of Troll Falls with Ellen and Jess come to mind) and we had to cross 2 ravines under my command… oops… not so easy when your feet are 3 times as big. But we survived and even found some sun in the end.

Mountain art

Nature creates some surprising forms. Here the old stumps get snow damps as the wind whisks around the trunk.

tea pause

I thought I should mention that I drank a lot of tea in the past year. Current favourites are Bengal Spice and Sage leaf.

sunlit curls

Family, one of the deciding factors why I came to Switzerland. Not only do they provide the laughs, the hugs, and the support that we all need, but they are ridiculously photogenic 🙂

Monkey Mia
mirrored concentration
Mother and daughter

One of my favourites of the year, capturing the goofy humour these two share. Sadly with moving, Caylin and I move apart, but we promise to have some girls dinners every once in a while too!

summer in the city

I currently live, that is before I move, in a particularly diverse neighbourhood of Zurich. That is saying a lot considering the political swing with regards to foreigners. Since I have been at this address, I have gotten to know a few of my Eastern European neighbours, heard hilarious stories about the Persian hairstylist and got tips from the Philippine grocery store owner on how to make a good wok. The street behind my building is the legal prostitution zone (don’t worry mom!) and there are several designated graffiti spaces along the river path. This is just like Zurich, fun yet still in order and under control. In the end, for the foreigners, we get to have a lot of fun as we carve out our own place in the city.

Beautiful Bea

Another smiling face from the very first days in Switzerland. Bea, from Holland and working in Zurich, is my go-to for everything, literally. One of the strongest and most independent young women I know, we have spent many long nights with a glass of wine trying to understand…

Laughing Lore

Another great smile in Zurich. My friend Lorena from Mexico and her sister with great humour and identical laughs. The international crowd is ever pushing the buttons of the Swiss, hehe. Lore lives at the edge of the forest and we have begun the barbecue season amongst the trees up there. And to end this post, one of the recent barbecues in the forest included the fire show below.

Fire dance

What a great year! Better get packing and start off the next one knowing where my socks are!

Consistent Inconsistency

Things that make me smile in Africa:

–          Whatever you want you can find on the street. If you don’t see it within a block, just ask, and the overly friendly young men would be more than happy to bring it to you. This applies to all things- furniture, papayas, beach toys, mosquito nets, fresh fish, fake plants, kitchen mops. I have officially seen all of these things balanced on heads/ bikes/ trees with a very eager salesperson nearby.

–          Inconsistency that keeps everything feeling new, for better or for worse. Same restaurants, different printings of the same menus. Same products, different street vendors putting a new twist on it.

–          This cell phone nation! Multiple cell phones per person for logical reasons about networks and deals, but ridiculous to see people schlepping around 3 phones and using them all! Also, the array of cell phone ring tones and the exceptionally long time that they let their phones ring, to allow me to fully appreciate the ring tone.

–          Sometimes the lack of A to B logic. At my new house here we got a local friend to sew drapes for the front windows. The drapes ended up about 4 inches too short, defeating the purpose entirely. Timo, the German owner, asked her why the drapes were made too short, and she said that he, Timo, must have changed the windows in the meantime.

Living never ceases to keep me on my toes, my eyes still as wide as ever and the flow of life here sinking in slowly but steadily.

I have now moved into a shared house with 2 Germans, 1 Burkinabé local and many many cockroaches. With the heat, mosquito nets and creepy crawlers,  it is now much more of an adventure than the air conditioned hotel, but I can cook for myself and the other housemates have a great sense of humour.

New house, new internet capabilities. Pictures to come soon…

Highlights from June

Regular classes were finished, but we were all still busy with our short ‘block’ courses. I was finishing up the case study (see the school page) and others were on educational adventures to the forests and nature reserves in Switzerland.

It was great to be done the bulk of the year’s work, and there were certainly a few celebrations as it was well into barbecue weather. So a few photos can capture the aspects of what my friends and I did in June, outside of the extra school work.

Flowers were in full bloom quite early, and the number of roses astonished me. As you walked through the streets you could catch little whiffs of floral scents from the various trees and shrubs in the city. I often saw locals collecting the wild flowers along the river to bring home. In this respect, the city has a thriving natural environment.

First signs of summer

One weekend I went up to the mountains to be with Lisa, Freddi, Nora and Mia. We went up to an old ruin near Flims (along the face of the Flims stone) for lunch. There were spectacular views over the valley which was checkered with forests, farming fields, and grazing land.

Meeting of the Rhine rivers

 I hadn’t been for a few months and it is amazing how this curious babe can change. As sweet as ever, Nora is now walking and babbling but hasn’t quite grasped her 4 languages that she is hearing (German, English, French, and the local language, Romansch), but it is coming.   

Curious

The other young lady in the house is Mia. Strong-minded, bright and detail oriented, I foresee an engineer in this girl. Sigh 🙂

Observant

The two sisters- I loved how Nora stared at Mia, with full trust that the chocolate bar would end up in her mouth.

Bonding through chocolate

Since I have known her, Nora has loved textures. She will happily sit and feel the grass and leaves. Sometimes she finds a flower and plays with the petals.

flower girl

As the weather inevitably got nicer, the get-togethers were always outside. I discovered the inner courtyard of my building and the free barbecue stove. We’ve had a couple of evenings there now, with kids and cats playing around us in the warm evenings as we enjoy out white wine spritzers and cream cheese stuffed mushrooms.

backyard barbecue

A few last photos from other days and nights.

candle light
bike by art

This final one is the old viaduct into the city centre, and is now part of the bridge for the trains entering the centre. I just catch a glimpse of it from my bedroom. I hear this is being done in other cities as well, but the space below the bridge has been renovated into retail and restaurant space- very funky and a great use of prime real estate in an area full of young people and parks. Each store is numbered, to enhance the simplicity of the concept.

viaduct stores